Antiseptics: a valuable ally

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Antiseptics: a valuable ally

Antiseptics were first used by Joseph Lister, a surgeon at Glasgow Royal Hospital, who in 1867 began cleaning his surgical instruments with carbolic acid (now known as phenol) and soaking the bandages before placing them on in wounds. At that time, even a small infected wound could cause disability or even death. Starting with the idea of Dr. Lister, a trend developed that led to sterile surgery and wound care, which has saved millions of lives.

Antiseptics and disinfectants are non-selective, topical anti-infectives. Their activity ranges from the simple reduction of the number of microorganisms (disinfection) to their complete destruction (sterilization) on the applied surface. Chemical disinfectants-antiseptics (or "non-antibiotic, antimicrobial agents" or biocides) contain a wide variety of substances, which are used to kill microorganisms, reduce their number or inhibit their growth. Chemical antiseptics are now considered to be just as important as "antibiotics-chemotherapies" in controlling infections.

Sometimes, the same chemical can act as an antiseptic and disinfectant, depending on the concentration of the drug, the exposure conditions, the number of microorganisms, etc. To achieve maximum effectiveness, it is necessary to use the appropriate concentration of the drug for the intended purpose. The logic that "if a little is good, twice as good" is not only uneconomical, but often has toxicological consequences.


Ideally, antiseptic products should cover a wide range and have a strong microbicidal action, with a rapid onset and long-term effect, and not be prone to developing resistance to microorganisms. They must be resistant to a number of environmental factors (eg pH / acidity, temperature, humidity) and maintain their activity, even in the presence of pus, dead tissue or other organic material. High lipid solubility (fat solubility) and good dispersibility increase their efficiency. Antiseptic preparations should not be toxic to tissues (eg skin) or affect wound healing. Disinfectants must be non-destructive to applied surfaces and easily biodegradable, not accumulate in the environment and not interact with other chemicals, leading to the production of toxic residues. Unpleasant odors, color and staining properties should be absent or minimal.


Most of these chemical compounds exert their antimicrobial activity by modifying and / or destroying the structural components of microbes (enzymes and structural proteins, lipids, genetic material, etc.). Although most categories of antiseptics and disinfectants have been used for decades, the emergence of antimicrobial resistance to certain agents, especially in the hospital setting, has led to ongoing research into the development of new compounds.

Various antiseptics are widely available and provide an effective tool against pathogenic microbes. Most of them have low toxicity, are easy to apply and develop excellent biocidal action in a very short time. In this sense, antiseptic preparations are a valuable ally in our daily struggle to maintain high levels of hygiene and to protect individual and public health.


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